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Black Hills Badlands Medley—Day Six

418 miles

I left before eight from Merriman, headed west. I spotted a diner in Gordon called Antelope Creek Café and stopped for the basics: eggs, bacon, hashbrowns, and coffee. It was cowboy-themed, like everything out there.



Approaching the Black Hills

Pointing north out of Nebraska, US 385 was a major highway. I turned off it for Hot Springs in South Dakota, wanting to approach the Black Hills from the south and to avoid Rapid City. From there, I went north toward Mount Rushmore, passing the Crazy Horse sculpture on the way, easily visible from the highway.



Crazy Horse Sculpture as Seen from the Road


Mount Rushmore was impressive, but there were many, many tourists, like at Old Faithful in Yellowstone, which slightly diminished the sculpture’s effect. I shot photos over the heads of the tourists, cropping them out. I had wanted to see the first sight of the mountain through the tunnels I had been told about on Alternate 16, but had come in the wrong way, so I hoped to travel it south and at least see that behind me, but bad advice from a young girl who had just started working at Mount Rushmore gift shop had me turn the wrong way, so I missed that. “There is so much out here, you just can’t see it all,” I consoled myself.



Mount Rushmore. Tourists Cropped Out

Next it was off to the Badlands, quite a way east of Rapid City. I took the paved Highway 44 east, then at Scenic, I took a gravel turnoff onto Sage Creek/North Rim Road, heading to the northern part of the Badlands. I had planned on picking up some water at Scenic, but everything was shuttered there. Luckily there was a small tour van parked up on the side of the road there, and I stopped to chat with the driver/guide. I mentioned my need for water, and he tossed me a cold bottle, saying, “You can’t go out into the Badlands with no water.” I continued on with the new bottle and a warm a half-bottle I still had when I had stopped.

Sage Creek Road was miles and miles of nicely graded and packed gravel. I was soon used to it and could keep up a confident forty-five to fifty miles per hour, except on some corners. A lady at the last gas stop had told me there was a campground on that route and that I’d “have no trouble on that bike.” I found the campground easily enough. It was large and treeless, with low-cropped grass and a circle of gravel driveway and sites on the inside and outside of the ring. It was in a big bowl surrounded by tall hills.

I pitched the tent next to Will, who offered to share his shaded picnic table. We got to be friends and had some interesting conversations, him leaning more to the conspiracy side of things than me but having a good attitude. I hiked up to the top of one of the biggest hills to see if I could get phone reception but got nothing. I walked another three-quarters to a mile all the way to the rim, but still had nothing, but the views were worth it. I went up late in the afternoon again with Will, and while he got a signal, I still had no luck.



Looking down on Sage Creek Campground

On top of the hill a young couple of campmates joined us, and we all had a good talk. In the evening, we all watched the stars and meteors together, which was quite a treat for Lana and Mike, who lived in Brooklyn and had never been out where they could see the stars. A half-moon only slightly diminished the view until it set.

Will had seen a herd of a couple hundred buffalo the morning before along with bighorn sheep and pronghorn antelope, and of course, the prairies dogs that were, literally, everywhere. So, as I went to sleep, I was looking forward to seeing wildlife in the morning. As the night settled in, I could hear coyotes calling each other from nearby.

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